Matt Kuchar survived a dramatic back nine fightback by Hunter Mahan to beat his former Ryder Cup team mate 2 and 1 and claim the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at a bitterly cold Dove Mountain last night.
Four up after nine holes, the 34-year old was pegged back to just one up with two to play before ending the match in spectacular fashion at the 474-yard 17th to claim his fifth PGA Tour victory and a cheque for $1.5m.
“He played a fantastic back side, just really kind of put the pressure back on me,” Kuchar said. “You could feel Hunter gaining the momentum. I had that four-up lead on the front, and then every hole was just so difficult with the conditions the way they were today that there was just a bogey around any corner, and Hunter made a couple birdies there to put some pressure on me.
“Fortunately he missed his approach shot on 13 to kind of give me the advantage there, and then bounced right back and stuffed it on 14, and it looked like we were having just a fight to the end.
“A lot of credit goes to Hunter for staying and fighting the way he did. That four-down deficit had to be tough for him at the turn where things could have easily gone quickly to finish the match out had he not put the pedal down and really started playing some good golf.”
Kuchar cruised into a four up led through the turn as Mahan dropped four shots in five holes from the fourth.
Mahan fought back with birdies to win three of the next five holes to be just two down with four to play when Kuchar overshot the 16th as the wind dropped and made bogey to see his lead cut to just one hole.
Both men drove into a fairway trap at the 17th but while Mahan carved his approach into desert scrub right of the green, Kuchar fired a sensational 160-yard approach to five feet.
Mahan failed to move his third shot more than a couple of yards and while he hit his fourth to seven feet, he quickly conceded Kuchar’s putt and the title he had captured with that dramatic win over Rory McIlroy 12 months ago.
With winds gusting over 30 mph on a freezing final day, Kuchar beat Jason Day 4 and 3 in the morning semi-finals as Mahan stretched his unbeaten run at the Tucson resort to 11 matches by taking down Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter 4 and 3 in one of the surprises of the week.
But the final was very much a tale of two halves as Kuchar cruised into a four up led through the turn before Mahan fought back with birdies to win three of the next five holes to be just two down with four to play.
Kuchar then opened the door completely when he hit his tee shot into the grandstand behind the par-three 16th, eventually losing the hole to a par to see his lead cut to just one hole before those late dramatics at the 17th.
Wielding a long putter braced against his left forearm, Kuchar is not considered to be using an anchored stroke, which golf’s governing bodies are proposing to ban this spring.
The R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA) proposed the rule change last November with a 90-day comment period coming to end this Thursday.
The PGA of America is against the ban and the PGA Tour has followed suit, officially announcing last night it has notified golf’s governing bodies that its members have told them to express their opposition.
Speaking at Dover Mountain, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said: “Our view is that it’s (anchoring) been around for a generation, and the game of golf has done quite well.
“So unless you have a compelling reason to change it, you shouldn’t, and the USGA has indicated there is no performance advantage to using anchoring.”
Whether this leads to a stand off between the governing bodies and the PGA Tour and the implementation of two sets of rules - one for amateurs and another for the PGA Tour - remains to be seen.
Asked if the PGA Tour might go its own way, leading to a chaotic situation, Finchem said: “Well, maybe. But first of all, our rules say we’re going to follow the USGA rules, provided that we maintain the right to differ.
“This is one rule. We’re not interested in getting in the rulemaking business. We like the structure for rules. We’re delighted it’s gotten as transparent as it has, that everybody is invited to give their opinion, whether it’s an equipment matter or not. That’s good.”
As for the golf at Dove Mountain, Poulter admitted he would find it tough to motivate himself for the consolation match even though he was playing for considerable world ranking points and third place money of $615,000 he described as “a little bit of change”.
And so it proved as he lost by one hole to Day, going from two up after six holes to two down after 12 before settling for a cheque for $500,000.
Asked if he felt the United States believed they owed him one after his Medinah heroics, Poulter smiled after his morning defeat to Mahan and said: “I’m sure they did. Oh well, we’ve still got the cup.”
Poulter was still upbeat about the season ahead and his decision to pare back his schedule to avoid a repeat of the case of pneumonia that stuck him down a year ago.
Playing just his second event in eight weeks, he said: “Getting pneumonia last year was a bit of a wake-up call, playing loads of tournaments at the back-end of the year and then going out and playing more at the start of the year – it was too much.
“You have got to take the breaks. You don’t realise what it takes out of you when you go gallivanting about around Asia and all over the place, trying to play golf.
“You have to make sure you do the right work in those six weeks off and you don’t neglect any practice. I’d like to do the same at the end of this year. Take some forced breaks.
“People keep questioning: ‘Why aren’t you playing?’ but you’ve got to do it. There are enough good tournaments in the world to play a decent schedule.”
As for his defeat to Mahan, Poulter said: “I’m personally disappointed. I would have liked the outcome to have been slightly different, but Hunter played very solid today.
“He chipped it unbelievably well when he had to, and I think the key point in the match was around 11 and 12. I had a putt there to win the hole on 11 from about eight feet and I missed it, and then he hit the wrong club on 12, went flying through the back of the green but then chipped in.
“That was a huge turnaround there as I was in position and could have changed that match around at that point. But from then there was no let up. He pars the next couple of holes and I miss a short putt on 14.
“So it was a shame, really, but it has been a good positive week for me and I feel very strong and positive for the season ahead.”
Matt Kuchar bt Jason Day 4-up; Hunter Mahan bt Ian Poulter 4-up
Third / Fourth place match
Jason Day bt Ian Poulter 1-up
Matt Kuchar bt Hunter Mahan 2&1.